This is My Body, This is My Blood

Text: The Sacrament of the Altar

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, tonight we gather again in observance of our Lord’s passion. This past Sunday we celebrated with hymns of victory and praise. We left the sanctuary with palm branches in our hands, symbols of our King’s victory over sin, death, and hell. Tonight, Holy Thursday, marks the night when our Lord was betrayed into the hands of sinful men, an event foretold in Sacred Scripture and necessary for our salvation. Yet, on this night we also celebrate the most holy meal given us to eat. The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul write:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”

In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Tonight we momentarily continue our Lenten devotion as we meditate on the gift of our Lord’s precious body and blood in His Supper. In this meal we receive the true body and blood of Jesus under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins. As our Savior went willingly to His death, He left us His last will and testament in this Sacrament, desiring that we receive it together until He returns at the end of time.

The Sacrament of the Altar, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, and the Lord’s Supper are all names for the same meal we confess and celebrate this evening. Already we’ve heard what the Church knows as the Words of Institution. These are the words that Christ spoke as He reclined with His disciples in the Upper Room. It was in the midst of the Passover meal, the meal that Jesus said He earnestly desired to eat before His suffering, that Christ gave us something new. At a certain time He took bread. After He had given thanks, He broke and gave it to the disciples saying, “This is my body which is for you.” In the same way He took cup and, when He had given thanks, gave it to them saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” With these words Christ gives us the Sacrament of the Altar and explains to us what it is, what it gives, and who it is for.

First, what is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is as Jesus says in His own words: His body and His blood. As we learn it from the Small Catechism, “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.” In Holy Communion the very body and blood which were broken and shed for the forgiveness of sins are given to us in the form of bread and wine. Though we see with our eyes only the bread and wine, yet through faith we know that, by the power of His Word, Christ Jesus joins Himself to the elements. As St. Paul writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation [communion] in the body of Christ?”

We therefore believe that these words of Christ are plain and clear: “This is My body…This is My blood.” The bread is not just bread, but the real body of Christ. The wine is not just wine, but the real blood of Christ. We are not cannibals. We simply believe in what theologians call the sacramental union, a technical term that basically means: “Jesus is God. He knows how to do things I don’t understand. He says the bread is His body and the wine, His blood. Therefore, it is.” We believe that the Words of Institution mean exactly what they say, such that even a child can read and understand them and confess that when Christ says “is,” He means it.

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In the Lord’s Supper we receive in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine the true body and blood of Jesus Christ. It is the same body and blood that was bruised, broken, and shed on the cross, and which rose from the dead to be seated at the right hand of God the Father. Christ gives this meal to us freely; but for what purpose? Jesus said so in the words we heard at the beginning of the sermon, “Given for you…shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” If someone asked you to give them the Christian faith in a nutshell, what would you say? Probably the best answer is that it’s about the reconciliation between God and sinners through Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of sins. Christianity’s all about the forgiveness of sins. What do we receive in the Lord’s Supper? The forgiveness of sins.

We believe that we receive our Lord’s body and blood in His Supper for the express purpose of receiving forgiveness. This is not a special forgiveness, mind you. You are not receiving a different forgiveness than you received in Baptism or through the preaching of the Gospel or through Holy Absolution. You are, though, receiving it in an especially neat way, though. Christ, through His Word, gives into your mouth His very body and blood to bring to you the forgiveness He won for you on the cross. In the Supper He is intimately joined to you, and you to Him.

There are other benefits that we receive from the Lord’s Supper, though the most important benefit remains the forgiveness of sins. Along with it we receive eternal life and salvation. Where there is forgiveness of sins death no longer reigns, hence eternal life and salvation in Christ. We also receive in the Sacrament the strengthening of our faith in Christ, which leads us to also love God and our neighbor. Lastly, by communing together, there is also a public demonstration of our unity in faith. St. Paul writes, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Likewise, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

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We believe from our Lord’s Words of Institution that what we receive in His Supper is not just bread and wine, but also His true body and blood, broken and shed for us. In the Holy Sacrament Christ gives us these gifts for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith. We’ve now heard what the Lord’s Supper is and what it’s for, but now we must ask who is it for? Let us hear the words we’ve learned from the Small Catechism. “Fasting and bodily preparation are, indeed, fine outward training. But a person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, ‘Given … and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’” What does that mean? The Lord’s Supper was instituted for the sake of poor sinners like us. In the Sacrament Christ offers peace and pardon in the forgiveness of sins, and He invites to His table those who believe His Words; namely, that the Supper is His true body and blood, not symbolically but sacramentally, given for the forgiveness of sins.

Our individual beliefs do not make it the Lord’s Supper, but the power of Christ’s Word alone does. Neither do we receive the benefits of the Sacrament just by doing the motions, as if a ritual could merit us salvation. Rather, the power of the Sacrament lies in Christ’s Word and its benefits are received only by those who believe what Christ says about it and desire what Christ gives in it. Those who do not believe Christ’s Words or doubt them should not receive the Lord’s Supper. For, St. Paul writes, “Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

In the Lord’s Supper we receive a visible, tangible gift of God and the assurance that Christ is with us, always at work forgiving our sins. Jesus gave us many promises in His ministry, “I am with you always; I will never leave you nor forsake you; Where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I; This is My Body, This is My blood for the forgiveness of sins.” In His Supper Christ is with us in a real, bodily way. In the feast of His body and blood He unites Himself to us for the forgiveness of our sins. He makes His home in us, strengthening the faith that was created through the preaching of the Gospel and washing of Holy Baptism. His presence leads us to love and serve God and our neighbor. In His Supper Christ gives us exactly what He says: His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. God grant that this meal would be preserved among through all time until we feast with all the saints at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which will have no end.

 

Hosanna to the Lord, for He Fulfills God’s Word!

Text: John 12:12-19

As we’ve been getting closer and closer to Easter this year, I’ve had this weird urge to watch the old Charlton Heston version of The Ten Commandments. I suppose it’s not actually that odd. It probably springs from the years of my childhood when it was broadcast on national television somewhere around Holy Week, which it still is, on ABC. What interests me is that it’s not an Easter movie. It’s about the Passover, the Exodus, and the Ten Commandments. The name Jesus isn’t mentioned in it at all. And yet, through the eyes of Scripture, it definitely is an appropriate film for this time of the Church year.

It feels like we just heard the Triumphal Entry, and that’s because we have. The lectionary also places the Triumphal Entry on the First Sunday in Advent, where we hear it to prepare for our Lord’s second coming. Today we hear the text again as we remember and confess our Lord’s Passion. The Triumphal Entry marks the final week of Jesus’ life. Today we’ll see that Jesus, our humble king, rides on to the cross in fulfillment of the Scriptures and for our salvation.

But, like I’ve said, I’ve had this weird urge to watch The Ten Commandments. I’ve also been listening to a heavy metal concept album about the Exodus. Maybe it’s because the daily lectionary, which provides Scripture readings for every day of the year (you can find it beginning on pg. 299 in our hymnal), has been walking us through the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and now Moses. This week we’ll hear about the plagues, the Passover, and the crossing of the Red Sea. Now, what I’m getting at with Charleton Heston, with concept albums and the lectionary, is that there’s a connection the Scriptures make that we sometimes forget. In chapter 12, St. John is inspired by the Holy Spirit to tell us that we’ve now entered the week leading up to the Passover. The Passover and Jesus’ Passion are connected; it’s not a coincidence.

The Holy Spirit mentions the Jewish festival three times in John’s Gospel, each time taking something connected to the Passover and doing something new. The first time was at the wedding in Cana. The six stone jars, each holding twenty or thirty gallons of water that Jesus turned into wine – those were for washing in preparation for the Passover. The Passover is mentioned again at the feeding of the 5,000. In the wilderness Jesus fed the multitudes, with 5 loaves and 2 fish. The manna and quail were an Old Testament preview. The third time the Passover is mentioned in John’s Gospel is as we enter the week of our Lord’s passion. It’s not a coincidence.

The Passover was given by the Lord in Exodus 12 as meal to be eaten in preparation for the Exodus. The people were to take an unblemished male lamb and slaughter it at twilight. Then they were to take some of its blood and put it on their doorposts. The blood would be sign for them. When the Lord came through to strike down the firstborn of Egypt, He would see the blood on the crossbars of their doors and pass over them. Through the blood, death passed over. That’s not a coincidence.

The Passover pointed ahead to and is now fulfilled in the Passion, the suffering, of our Savior. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we stood in the bonds of slavery. Only our slavery was to sin, to death and the powers of hell. From of old, God has heard the cries of His people. Every tear of distress, every cry of anguish and grief, every prayer of sorrow prayed by loved ones left behind, has entered God’s ears. In the Garden of Eden He promised that He would put an end to death and the devil, and it happens this week. We remember and confess this week the most holy and sacred week in the history of the universe, where the Son of God dies for us. His arms were outstretched on the cross so that His blood now marks our doors. Through His suffering and passion, we are rescued from slavery to sin as death passes over us.

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The Evangelist writes,

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written.

As I’ve already said, it’s not a coincidence that the Passover and the Passion fall during the same time. We also just heard that Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it had been written in the Scriptures. This another connection that we might not always notice. Everything Jesus did was to fulfill the Scriptures, and there’s nothing in them that isn’t connected to Jesus.

Since we’re in the year 2016, the events of Holy Week and Easter have happened already. We aren’t reliving or re-enacting them. Rather, we’re looking backwards through the resurrection to learn and confess all the things Christ did for us. That’s what Jesus taught the Disciples to do as well. Remember after the Resurrection, how Jesus appeared to them and taught them to understand the Scriptures? He opened their minds to see that throughout the Law and the Prophets He is talked about, particularly how it was necessary for Him to suffer, die, and rise on the third day. St. John writes in our text, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him.”

What was written in the Old Testament about Jesus at the Triumphal Entry? Look at verse 15, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” The Holy Spirit applies the words of the prophet Zechariah to this event, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion…behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation…because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free.” The Holy Spirit is preaching that Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem is the king of glory entering His holy temple. But rather than a building, Jesus’ temple is the cross. The cross is where He offered up His own body and blood as the sacrifice for all the sins of the world. This is where all the Scriptures find their meaning: the bruised and broken body of God dying on the cross for the sins His creation committed against Him.

So, let us return to these comforting words this Palm Sunday, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming.” Fear not, daughter of Zion. That’s the Church. The Lord is speaking to you, now, “Fear not.” You who wait anxiously for the redemption of your souls and the resurrection of the body; You who patiently bear the reproach of the world for the sake of Christ’s holy name; You who suffer illness, trial, temptation, sorrow, and grief: Fear not. Why? Because your King is coming. And, not like the kings of the world does Jesus come, but as the humble Son of God riding on a donkey. He rides on in majesty, in lowly pomp, in fulfillment of the Passover and the completion of God’s promises, to die for your salvation.

I invite you turn to the Lenten hymn, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth.” (438) Stanza 2 speaks about our true Passover lamb. “This Lamb is Christ, the soul’s great friend, the Lamb of God, our Savior, whom God the Father chose to send to gain for us His favor. ‘Go forth, My Son,’ the Father said, ‘And free My children from their dread of guilt and condemnation. The wrath and stripes are hard to bear, but by Your passion they will share the fruit of Your salvation.’” Here we sing of Christ fulfilling the Scriptures for our salvation. He is the true Lamb of God, whose blood takes away the sin of the world. He was sent by God the Father, in keeping with His promises through the prophets, to gain for us salvation. Though the wrath and stripes of God’s punishment are hard to bear, Christ bore them willingly. For, by His passion, we are made to share the fruits of His salvation: the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.

This week we remember and confess the events of Christ’s holy passion. We call it His passion because He allowed all the things that happen this week, to happen out of His great love for us. On Thursday we’ll celebrate the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, where at His last supper Christ gave us the feast of His body and blood, through which He gives us the forgiveness that He won on the cross. On Friday we’ll gather in observance of His suffering and death for us. Then, on Sunday we will celebrate with all the faithful His triumphant resurrection, where death’s reign is ended as it is swallowed up in victory.

Judica, the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Text: Commandments VIII-X

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Paul wrote to the Romans,

If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.

St. Paul says that though the Law of God is good and wise – It is His holy, righteous, and perfect will – since the Fall into sin it has served another purpose: the shows us our sin. It shows us God’s holy and good will, the things that God desires us to do, but in doing so it also reveals just how godly we really are.

So far we’ve looked at the first seven Commandments. Last week we looked at the Fifth through Seventh, and some of us may have thought that, okay, now here were some things we can do. Don’t murder, don’t cheat on your spouse, and don’t steal. Those seem pretty reasonable. Of course, we know from the Sermon on the Mount that the Commandments don’t just regulate outward physical actions, that was the error of the Jews, but the very inward thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Even if we didn’t have Jesus to teach us that, we would still learn it from a right understanding of the last three Commandments. These govern not just physical actions, but our thoughts as well. And, by doing so, the final three Commandments turn us back to the First. We are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things so that we then love our neighbors as ourselves.

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At first glance, Commandments 8-10 seem to deal only with outward things. The Eighth Commandment is “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” The Ninth and Tenth Commandment are both “You shall not covet.” The Ninth speaks about coveting our neighbor’s things, the Tenth about people associated with our neighbor, such as his wife or workers. We learn from the Eighth Commandment that we should, first, not bear false witness in the court of law. Neither should we betray our neighbor’s secrets or slander him. We should also not do anything to purposely hurt his reputation, but instead defend him and speak well of him, explaining everything in the kindest way. The Ninth and Tenth Commandments both warn us not to use dishonest means to get our neighbor’s things, which is also the Seventh Commandment – and the Eighth.

An example of that Commandment from Old Testament Israel would be that, because of their hardness of heart, a husband might give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away. This was all legal. But, suppose you were a married man who fancied another’s wife. Now, you wouldn’t stoop to breaking the Sixth Commandment. Instead, you would divorce your wife. Then, you would find a way to make the husband of the wife you fancied dislike his wife. He would divorce her and you would scoop her up. It’d all be legal. Legal, but wrong. This situation might not play out the same today, but you can see how it illustrates the Commandment “Do not covet,” for we are to fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get things which aren’t ours in ways that only appear right.

But, now you see. These Commandments, and all of them, deal not just with external, outward actions, but the lying and scheming hearts that beat within our chests. They reveal that, at the core, our hearts are just plain bad. It says in the Psalms, “The Lord looks down from heaven…to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt.” Jeremiah laments over the condition of the human heart saying, “The heart is deceitful above all things.” Who among us can go a day without lying or without coveting? The Lord teaches us that He provides for all our needs, and yet we doubt and look to all the things other people have. He continually comes to us in His Word and Sacraments to give us the forgiveness of our sins and to reassure us of His grace. He promised that against these things the gates of hell shall not prevail, and yet, we worry about whether we’ll even be here in 5 years.

Dear Christian friends, the Commandments show us not just our failures to live according to God’s will by our actions, but they shine a spotlight on the natural condition of our heart: bad, bad, evil, bad. This is the doctrine of original sin. By nature, our hearts are totally corrupt, devoid of the good things of God and actually turned against Him. St. Augustine wrote that original sin is the lack of original righteousness. That is, Adam and Eve were created with the ability to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, an ability we now lack. It’s the Commandments’ job to show us that. It says in the Smalcald Articles, one of the documents in our Lutheran Book of Concord, that our human nature is so deeply corrupted by original sin that no one can understand it by reason or logic; it must be believed from Scripture. So then, by revealing the natural contents of our hearts, Commandments 8-10 form a wreath bringing us back the First Commandment, or perhaps at this moment, a noose around our necks.

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St. Paul continued in his letter to the Romans, “We know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin…I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh…I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” With Paul, we agree that God’s Law is good and right, and we ought to do the things it says. Hymn 579 says in stanza 3, “To those who help in Christ have found and would in works of love abound it shows what deeds are His delight and should be done as good and right.” As those redeemed in Christ, we are forgiven our sins, our failure to obey God’s Law. In Holy Baptism the guilt of original sin, and all sin, is washed away. It is the washing of renewal and rebirth where we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. He leads us to scorn the flesh, desiring and doing God’s holy will. And yet, we aren’t out of danger yet.

For, though we are baptized, our old corrupt nature is not totally obliterated. God’s work in us will not be complete until the resurrection, where what is perishable puts on the imperishable. We are forgiven now and will enter eternal life, but in the meantime we are still sinners. You’ve heard the phrase simul justus et peccator, simultaneously saint and sinner. What does that mean? Do we focus on the saint part and write off the sinner part saying that sinners are just going to sin as a matter of fact? No! The Law needs to be continually be preached, even to Christians, because honestly, sometimes we can get lazy.

The Law has three jobs, one we already know. First, it acts as a curb, saying “Don’t bear false testimony; Don’t covet.” Second, it shows us how godly we are by nature: that even if we don’t sin in action, our thoughts and words are still in play. (That’s called acting as a mirror.) And, third, it stands as God’s will for our lives as, a guide for redeemed Christians. Redeemed, yes, but also still sinners. That is why we’ve been looking at the Commandments this Lent: to increase our understanding of God’s Word and the depth of His mercy. The moment we cast off the preaching of God’s Law is also the moment we free ourselves of the Gospel.

St. Paul confessed, “What a wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” This confession we share. We’ve looked at all Ten Commandments; how have you scored? When measured against God’s holy law, we don’t look so good. In fact, we are revealed to be totally corrupt, vessels fit for destruction. But, “Thanks be to God through Jesus our Lord…There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus Christ is the true God of all heaven and earth and yet, in our time, He took on Himself our human flesh. The author of the Law became subject to its demands, as we are. Only, He kept them all perfectly. He actively obeyed God’s will in action and thought. Then, as payment for our transgressions, He died the brutal death we deserve for every evil thought. Through the preaching of His Word, in the washing of Holy Baptism, and in the Sacrament of the Altar, He daily and richly forgives our sins as a free gift. Through the Law we learn God’s will and our corruption. In the Gospel we learn the magnitude of His mercy. Thanks be to God.

 

So That We Do Not Harm, Commandments V-VII

2016/03/06 Laetare – Manuscript

 

In Matthew 22, Jesus’ opponents came to Him to try and trap Him with a trick question. They asked Him, “Teacher, what is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When speaking about the Law, the Ten Commandments, Jesus divided them into two categories: our relationship with God and our relationships with other people. We call them the first and second tables of the Law. The first table contains the first three Commandments, which teach us to love and honor God above all things. The second table of the Law are the commandments which direct our relationships with the people around us, the Fourth through Tenth.

We last looked at the Fourth Commandment, where God teaches us to love and honor Him, by loving, cherishing, and obeying those whom He gives us to act in His stead. The Fourth Commandment speaks primarily about the relationship between parents and children, but also about other offices that God has instituted for our good, such as the government and the pastoral office. It teaches us about the relationship we have with the neighbors who are above us in station. Today we’ll look at the Fifth through Seventh Commandments. They direct and protect our relationships with the neighbors around us, beside us (as in marriage), and across from us. In these commandments we learn how God desires us to behave toward our neighbor in Christ: to do no harm, but instead, to do good.

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We’ll continue using the Commandments as printed in the front of our hymnal. The Fifth Commandment is “You shall not murder. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” In this commandment we move from how we relate to those whom God has placed over us to those whom He places around us in our daily lives. In short, we are forbidden in this commandment to do our neighbor harm. But first, we’re using the word “neighbor” a lot today; who is our neighbor? This is the question that prompted the parable of the Good Samaritan. The answer: everyone is our neighbor. Therefore, we should do no harm to anyone. The government is exempted from this commandment when it lawfully punishes evil and fights just wars.

Now, what does it mean to harm our neighbor? This commandment directs us first to avoid physical harm. This means that as individuals, we do not have the authority from God to take the life of another person. The straight-up meaning of the commandment we understand: Don’t murder. But, there are other areas of life that this commandment speaks to, such as abortion and euthanasia. Both of these involve taking the lives of those around us who are the most vulnerable, who themselves are individual creations of God and are loved by Him. All life is to be cherished and preserved as a gift from God.

The Hebrew word for murder also includes the understanding that sometimes our neglect can lead to the physical harm and death of others. Such as, if you see someone in distress on the side of the road, and you just keep driving while they die, that would be breaking the Fifth Commandment. Jesus also says that if you are harboring anger and hatred against your brother, or if there is animosity in your heart toward another person, that is also sin. Therefore, the Fifth Commandment teaches us to do no harm to our neighbor, but instead to do good. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the prisoner, sharing with all the love that we first received from Christ.

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The love that we receive from Christ, the love that He has for the Church – His Bride – is also the model of love between a man and his wife. The Fifth Commandment teaches us about our relationship with those around us. The Sixth Commandment teaches us about the most intimate relationship many of us have: the neighbor beside us, who is in fact one flesh with us in marriage – our spouse. The Sixth Commandment says, “You shall not commit adultery. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.” In this Commandment God protects and honors the estate of marriage by teaching us to live chaste lives in what we say and do.

The estate of marriage is a holy relationship, established by God in the Garden of Eden, where He brought Adam and Eve together to live as husband and wife. It is a most blessed estate, the highest even, for it is the primary way that God raises up faithful people for Himself. God teaches in this Commandment that we are to respect and value this gift by loving and honoring our spouses. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. Wives, love and respect your husbands as the Church does Christ.

In this Commandment we also recognize that sexuality is gift from God. It is not something to be shunned or hidden, for it is a good creation of God. But, like many other good things in creation, it is often abused. God created marriage to be the place where His gift of sexuality is exercised and urges are controlled. It is only by a special gift of God that some, like St. Paul, are able to live sexually pure and decent lives apart from marriage. The rest of us, though, should aspire to the blessed estate of marriage. St. Paul writes, “Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband…it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” We should also pray for those who are married, that Jesus would help them to love and honor each other, and for those who desire to be married but are not yet.

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From the Fifth Commandment, where we learn how to relate to the neighbor around us, we moved to the Sixth Commandment, where we learn how to relate to our neighbor beside us: our spouse. In the Seventh Commandment we learn how we relate to the neighbor around and across from us. The Seventh Commandment says, “You shall not steal. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.”

In short: don’t steal. Don’t be a thief or a robber. I think we’ve probably got a handle on that. Many of us learned very early on not to steal when we got spanked by our parents for stealing from the cookie jar, or a toy from our sibling. But, one area that blows a hole in the side of our pride is this: What about those times at work where you’re just being idle? We all have those days where time comes to a standstill and we need something, anything, to pass the time – so long as it’s not actually working. Sometimes we get into the bad habit of doing things on the clock that are more properly done in free time. That’s the Seventh Commandment. We should not steal in any way, whether out in the open, by dishonesty, or by idleness. How often we would so much rather take an open thief than a hidden one, because we can catch and punish them. But, Luther once said, if we tried to gather up all the thieves in the world, both open and hidden, there wouldn’t be anyone left to do the punishing.

I’m going to read some Words of Christ spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary…The Lord God opened my ear, and I was not rebellious…I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.” Scripture shows us that Jesus did no harm to anyone; He loved and served every neighbor in need, having compassion on them like sheep without a shepherd. In the book of Hosea, it says His heart recoiled in His chest, that though His bride Israel repeatedly stepped out on their marriage, He would redeem her. He would heal His people and take away their iniquity, their infidelity toward Him and each other.

And, though, we like sheep have gone astray – doing harm to our neighbor in action and thought, being unfaithful to God and each other, and being thieves in deed and word – The Lord has given us this word: “Behold, I have engraved you on the palm of my hands.” For your sins, for mine, and for the whole world, Christ was crucified. And in those blessed wounds you are inseparably joined to Him, and He to you. Where He is – so shall you be. And this, not because of our faithfulness to the Ten Commandments, not because we have kept the Law and earned our salvation, but because of these words: “Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you…you will not be forgotten by me. I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Amen.